MONGOLIA - continued...
The natural grazing has a very short growing season, limited by low temperatures. Pasture growth begins in mid-May and usually ceases after mid-August because of drought. Frosts can occur at the end of August; the thermal growing season is shorter in the mountains and longer in the Gobi. The grazing lands were surveyed in detail and pasture maps covering the country produced about twenty years ago. Under negdel management pastures were monitored and seasonal movements of livestock respected. The monitoring needs up-dating so that the present situation can be defined and policies formulated on a basis of fact rather than opinion;. The dichotomy of interests between the grazers and the grazed in recognised at government level: livestock are under the Ministry of Agriculture and Industry while the grazing lands are the responsibility of the Ministry of Nature and Environment.
Opinions on the present state of Mongolias pastures vary widely, especially those of external missions. There is general agreement that there is overstocking close to agglomerations, especially the capital, and along herding routes; damage through random track-making by vehicles, in valley-bottoms is widespread. Thereafter opinions vary from declaring that the nations pastures are seriously degraded, risking an ecological disaster, to the view that overstocking is a localised phenomenon and labour availability, not pasture production is the main constraint to herding. While stock numbers are at an all-time high since recording began in 1918, the 1996 levels are only marginally higher than those of 1950 (Table 8). Problems vary from place to place and outlying (summer and autumn) pastures are under-utilised while winter-spring pastures are often abused. Natural control of stock numbers is the traditional way to correct overstocking. Periodic dzud, or prolonged drought kills large numbers and put the grazing stock back in equilibrium with the forage supply: however effective natural disasters are in protecting the grazing vegetation, they lead inevitably to poverty and suffering among the herders.
The vast grasslands of Mongolia are part of the steppe, a prominent transition belt in Inner Asia and Central Asia between the forest and desert belts. Steppe vegetation is characterised by a predominance of grasses, especially Stipa and Festuca spp.. Legumes are scarce, the commonest are Medicago falcata and Astragalus spp. Artemisia frigida is frequent and is the main steppe-forming plant of the desert steppe. The montane forest steppe has Festuca and Artemisia spp as dominants.
Some was grown during the collective period, for hay, by negdels and State Farms in the higher rainfall areas. Some silage was made by "mechanised dairies". The area has dropped dramatically with the change of system, from 1 470 km2 in 1989 (Table 9) to 250 in 1993 and probably much less now. Oats, Avena sativa, was the main hay crop; their cultivation suits the wheat-growing equipment already available, a crop can be grown to the hay stage in the short season available and harvesting and curing is easy. All operations were, of course, mechanised. Locally-saved seed was mainly used. Sunflower, Helianthus anuus, was a common silage crop; in the main crop producing areas sunflower can develop to the full heading stage with seed set, suitable for ensiling, before low temperatures affect growth; it is a very drought-tolerant crop. Seed can not, however, be successfully ripened in the main silage-making zone. Some farms arranged for seed to be produced at lower, warmer sites in Eastern Mongolia but much of the seed was imported from Central Asia.
Table 9 Fodder and straw production 1989 - 1993
Lucerne, Medicago spp., has been cultivated on a small scale, under irrigation, in the area of the Great Lakes in the Northwest for a very long time. This was expanded greatly during the collective period but is now on a lesser scale. Local landraces are used, probably M. media types; their seed set and production is good. M. falcata, yellow-flowered lucerne, has been grown under irrigation on some State Farms, including Khar Horin, and was also grown on several small irrigated areas in the Gobi. The Gobi sites have been converted to the more popular and profitable melons and vegetables. Sown fodder does not have a high priority under the present economic and social conditions but could play a role in supplementing low quality winter and spring feed in favoured sites. Oat hay could be developed as a cash crop on cereal farms once the crop industry is re-established. Screening and selection of cultivars will, however, be necessary as will development of a seed supply chain.
After the great 1944 dzud the government decided to encourage the creation of reserves of fodder by private herders but this really developed during the collective period. The State Emergency Fodder Fund was set up in 1971, operating twelve centres and forty-one distribution points; its origins date from the 1930s when haymaking stations were started with horse-drawn technology brought in from Russia. By 1991 the SEFF operated 22 centres; because of financial problems most were transferred to aimag administrations. The SEFF played an important part in reducing the impact of weather emergencies but, as economic liberalisation progressed, central government could not provide the previous level of subsidy.
In 1997 total fodder production was estimated at 340 000 fodder units; the national average was 4.9 forage units per sheep, less than a tenth of the average of 1980. The biggest bottleneck in haymaking by herders is the amount of labour involved and the lack of machinery. Herbage reaches its maximum yield and feeding quality in the second half of August in most ecological zones; this is a season of relatively heavy rainfall and it is laborious to mow and turn low-yielding crops of hay to make a quality product.
Table 10 Haymaking by producer and year - tonnes
The grazing management of the collective period was based on limited mobility within the bounds of the negdel and while brigades usually handled monospecific herds, they might overlap in space to provide multi-species grazing of the same pasture for greater efficiency; further mixed grazing pressure was provided by the private stock of the families. The areas and seasons of grazing were specified by management, giving a broader coverage than at present and avoiding undue concentration of stock. Organised marketing avoided both the build-up of excess stock and the congregation of camps close to roads and centres.
Table 11. Stock ownership (percent head) during the collective period
Change to private ownership shifted the responsibility for risk avoidance and economic management abruptly from state to household. Herders very rapidly reverted to traditional mobile transhumance in small family groups. Ex-salaried staff took to herding with stock from negdel break-up but not all succeeded . One hundred to one hundred and fifty head is considered to be the threshold herd size for a reasonable living; fifty is the poverty line. In 1995 over 40% of households had under 50 head, 45% had over 100 and only 15% owned over 200 animals. Controlled grazing has gone - in some areas pasture use is anarchic, with immigrant herders trespassing on the traditional lands of others. At neighbourhood and community levels other customary institutions have re-emerged. Groups provide an approach to regulating access to grazing. They are often kinship-based and related to a natural grazing management unit such as a valley, or, in dry areas, a water source. Hay and fodder are now negligible - overwintering survival dependent on autumn condition and herding skills.
Extensive herding, of course, goes on but the control of the collective period has gone. The transition has, however, given women a far greater role in decision-making since under the collective all the governmental bodies were overwhelmingly male although many veterinarians are women; women now take an active role in management and especially marketing. Water is a determining factor in pasture use, especially in the steppe and Gobi regions (the mountain-steppe often has plentiful surface water); some areas can only be grazed in winter when snow is available as a water source, in others wells supply, or used to provide water; in the Gobi herders movements are governed by watering places. Breakdown of most of the deep "mechanical" water points has rendered many areas inaccessible, especially in the eastern steppe - gazelle numbers are increasing as they colonise the deserted grazing.
All herding families now keep multi-species herds, that is having at least three kinds of livestock each forming over 15% of the herd; subsidiary species are those forming under 10%; e.g. camels in many areas and yak in the foothills of the mountain-and-steppe zone. Multi-species herds have many advantages, but increase the labour needs. The different species vary in their grazing habits and preferences, a mixture, therefore makes better use of the overall forage available; yak and horses, for example, can go further into the mountains than other stock; goats and camels make better use of browse. There is a complementarity of species in winter grazing: large stock, especially horses, are used to open trails in heavy snow cover to facilitate grazing by sheep and cattle. A mixed herd spreads risk much more than a monospecific one. Part of the necessity of mixed herds is, of course, the herders needs for a range of products including transport and traction.
The herders year is divided according to the seasons. The winter and spring camps and grazing are the key to their overall system; it must provide shelter as well as accessible forage through that difficult season. Rights to winter grazing are jealously guarded and frequent subjects of dispute; finding winter grazing is a major problem for many "new" herding families. In contrast to many transhumance systems elsewhere, herders often go to the hills in winter to find shelter from the cold winds which sweep the steppe; the hills frequently have less snow and more accessible forage than the plains. Some areas are used in winter because water scarcity precludes their use when there is no snow. Spring grazing is also critical since it is there that most of the young are born at a season when feed is very scarce.
Taking livestock to more distant fattening pastures "otor" is an important part of well organised herding and if done with skill, greatly improves the condition of stock before the long winter. Going on otor requires effort and labour, and camping away from the main group; it may reduce surveillance of winter camp sites, but is a key to better herd survival. Many herders now undertake much shorter transhumance circuits than previously and produce far less hay. Herders objectives in supplementary feeding are: to minimise loss of condition, ensuring better yield in the coming year and enable early mating, mainly for cows and camels; to improve disease resistance and lessen the incidence of abortion, small stock and mares; to support suckling females and their young; and to maintain working stock. They contend that supplements to weak stock, once begun, must not be withdrawn before both weather and pasture conditions are suitable for the stock to forage for themselves.
Winter and spring shelters were a very useful innovation of the negdel; generally simple wooden structures sited in a sheltered spot and often south-facing; they provide valuable protection to stock. With privatisation, no rights to shelters have been assigned to herders, so they are often dilapidated although little other than labour inputs are required to make them useable.
With state subsidies for inputs removed and services reduced or absent, herders have reverted to traditional risk-management (in what has always been a risky environment) including keeping multi-species herds and co-operating with other households in herding tasks to help cope with the greater labour needs of diversified herds. The basis of this collaboration is the khot ail, a traditional level of household collaboration, camping and working in a group, which existed before collectivisation, especially for summer and autumn grazing. The sur of the negdels partly copied this, but avoided the kinship basis which is common in the khot ail. These units are often, but not necessarily, based on family ties, associations between households with common interests are as important. The size of the khot ail varies with season and ecological zone: in the Gobi the khot ail often consists of a single household; in better watered areas up to five households may group together. At neighbourhood and community levels other customary institutions have re-emerged. At neighbourhood level groups provide an approach to regulating access to grazing. They are often kinship-based and related to a natural grazing management unit such as a valley or, in dry areas, a water source. They exist within the limits of a wider traditional unit the bag, a customary institution which was responsible for pasture allocation and dispute settlement in the pre-collective era: present bag boundaries are generally based on those of the brigades.
The changes have had a marked effect on the accessibility of basic foodstuffs and the dietary pattern of the herders. FAO 1996 states: "Herders are self-sufficient in meat and milk products, and consumption of those products increased by 30% and 50%, respectively, between 1990 and 1992. In the same period the consumption of other food decreased, e.g. by 40% for flour and by more than 80% for various food grains. This was a result of the worsening of rural trading services, as herders could only get commodity goods in sum centres, instead of from brigade centres and travelling agents as previously". Reforms have changed a highly organised grazing system into one where privately-owned livestock graze public land; this is often a certain recipe for pasture abuse. Although ownership of land is often a prerequisite for its good management, this is not the case for extensive grazing land in Mongolia (for arable, intensive livestock, residential and mining land the situation is different); some form of group registration of grazing rights is considered adequate and more desirable. The reasons quoted by Mearns and Swift (1996) and the PALD team, are:
"There are strong arguments in favour of increasing security of tenure over pasture land in Mongolias extensive livestock sector, in order to promote sustainable land management and reduce conflicts over pasture. It is more likely that individualised, private ownership of pasture land, under Mongolian conditions, would actually increase conflict and jeopardise environmental stability, particularly given the lack of administrative capacity to enforce such rights.
"While ownership often increases investment and creates a demand for and a supply of credit, since the land would be managed as a capital good in which investments must be made to promote sustainability and prevent land degradation. This assumption does not hold for most pasture land in Mongolias extensive livestock sector in which few if any external inputs are required to maintain productivity. Sustainable pasture management in such an environment depends primarily on mobility and flexibility rather on capital investment. There are certain exceptions: investment may be made in winter/spring camps and shelters, and in wells and other water resources, and there may be a demand for credit to overcome transport constraints in seeking to maintain mobility. But it is not clear in the Mongolian case that lack of secure title is the principle obstacle to supply of such credit, nor that it could not be satisfied by means of certified possession rights at the level of a group such as the khot ail, which is the appropriate level at which most such investments are likely to be made.
"In addition there are strong ecological reasons why the development of a market in pasture land would be undesirable. Sustainable land use under an extensive grazing system requires mobility of livestock between pastures suitable for use in each season. Such seasonal pastures must be shared between neighbouring households since their patterns of movement overlap and vary between years according to forage availability. The spatial arrangement of Mongolian landscapes vary considerably between ecological zones; larger areas are required to encompass land suitable for all seasons in desert-steppe zones, while smaller areas are required in the steppe and mountain-forest-steppe zones. In most cases the risk of drought and/or dzud, among other natural hazards, requires that herders have access to traditional areas of pasture for emergency use. Taken together these factors account for the indivisibility of pasture land in Mongolia below a certain spatial scale varying by ecological zone. On no account should transfers of land be permitted that would fragment in any way these minimum sustainable pasture resource areas."
The constraints to sustainable grazing management in Mongolia are discussed above. Its harsh climatic conditions are not a constraint; they are the reason for the extensive, mobile, animal production, based exclusively on natural pasture, which have proved sustainable over many centuries. Many constraints are organisational rather than technical and have their roots either in the present economic situation of the region or changes in governmental policy during the twentieth century. The main organisational constraint is the lack of recognition, or title to, grazing rights, especially for winter camps and hay-fields; legislation to deal with this is under consideration. Lack of regulation of grazing is becoming serious locally, with the abandonment of some areas and over-use of others; a revitalised monitoring system is needed to provide a factual basis for advice and control on the use and maintenance of grazing land. Herders are not organised above the family group, khot ail, level which is too small for decision-making over the very large areas of land needed for management under extensive herding.
Guidelines on grazing management are a necessary adjunct to any control of use and advice; these must be developed with herders participation, after organisation of the herding community. National guidelines may be necessary as a framework but it will be necessary to develop a series of others which take into account the ecological conditions, situation, topography and production systems of individual areas: it is at that level that very close consultation with the users will be necessary. While rising stock numbers are a cause for concern, they have been up to near present-day levels during the fifties; the rapid rise in the human population and the increase in the number of herding families, however, is likely to make control of grazing pressure yet more difficult.
Herders have been affected by a reduction in the levels of services available and have not yet come to terms with having to help themselves where, previously decisions were taken and services provided centrally. Lack of availability of selected breeding stock is noticeable, although that may change if markets and profitability improve. Lack of marketing infrastructure affects access to outside purchasers as well as both offtake and the quality of products on sale. Similarly lack of access to consumer goods and supplies reduces the incentive to sell and may lead to accumulation of non-breeding stock. The closure of the State Emergency Fodder Fund has thrown herders back on their own resources for supplementary fodder supply. Research, training and technical support services now operate on very reduced budgets.
Opportunities for improving grazing management and herbage condition while maintaining and increasing output are many-fold. Mongolias grazing lands are well suited to extensive livestock raising and are generally in good condition. Herding has always been the main occupation; the people are highly skilled and motivated; they also have the support of a solid body of technical expertise and knowledge. Once legal problems associated with grazing rights have been resolved, coupled with the organisation of the herding population, the industry should be able to manage its resources properly while improving the livelihood of the rural population.
Many of the actions to remove or palliate these constraints require administrative decisions or actions: definition and granting of grazing rights, probably emphasising winter camps and hay lands in the first instance; a structure for the organisation of the herding population so that they can participate in the regulation of local land use as well as pasture management, development, and maintenance, all of which must have users participation; monitoring of pasture condition and regulation of its use, which will also require the participation of herders associations as will the establishment of guidelines (down to local level) on the use of grazing land. Research and training must be maintained and, at herders level, expanded. Rehabilitation of water supplies and revitalisation of haymaking are two very obvious activities for better pasture use and stock survival; these can now only be tackled by the herding communities once organised; haymaking by individual households needs access to simple implements, security and training. Water development must await both granting of grazing rights and organisation of the users before it has a realistic chance of success.
Mongolia has maintained mobility for its vast extensive livestock sector throughout the changes of system. Transhumance, with few if any external inputs, has clearly demonstrated its resilience and sustainability. The negdel, although restricting transhumance distances compared to the original traditions, still ranged over sufficiently large areas to cope with many weather events. Selected stock of local breeds were used, some crossing of cattle took place in favoured areas, but the overall livestock population has remained hardy, productive, good foragers and suitable for mobile herding. Under the negdels there was an excessive use of subsidised fodder which may have contributed to their eventual economic collapse, but they left behind both herders and stock adapted to the conditions and economic realities of the countrys grazing lands. The lack of orderly transfer of grazing rights, however, has led to some transitional problems. It is clear that improvement of grazing management in Mongolia must be within traditional transhumance and based on the proper use of grazing land with the minimum use of external inputs. In addition to making best use of the available grazing in an organised manner, the redevelopment of family haymaking, from natural herbage, where hayfields can be developed is a primary area for encouragement.
The Research Institute of Animal Husbandry is a long-established, well staffed, research organisation closely integrated with field development teaching which contains a wealth of knowledge on pasture ecology and management, animal production and health, and the associated scientific disciplines. It deals with all aspects of pasture and livestock management. Many of the more senior researchers use Russian as their technical language.
Address: Zaisan, Ulaanbaatar - 21053, Mongolia.
Erdenbaatar Bathargalin, Deputy Director, in an English-speaking contact.
Enquiries in English will require translation before they can be dealt with by specialised technicians so replies may take time.
ADB 1998 Mongolia Agricultural Sector Development Program Interim Report. Sloane Cooke and King.
Batsukh, B. and E. Zagdsuren 1990 Sheep Breeds of Mongolia. FAO World Animal Review
Cai Li & J. Weiner 1995 The Yak FAO RAP Bangkok ISBN 974.89351-0-8
Erdenbaatar B. 1996 Socio-economic aspects of the pastoral movement pattern of Mongolian herders pp 59 - 110 in Humphrey C., and D. Sneath (eds) 1996
Erdenbaatar B. (in press) Risks in Mongolian pastoral herding societies: understanding and policy options. In Proceedings of the International workshop "Pastoral Risk Management In Central Asian Transition Economies" sponsored by FAO, The United Nations, 21-25 October, 1998, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Erdenetuya, M. and S. Khudulmur Land cover change and pasture estimation of Mongolia from space (website)
FAO 1996 Trends in Pastoral Development in Central Asia Rome, Italy
FAO/UNESCO 1978 Soil Map of the World, Vol III North and Central Asia. UNESCO, Paris
Humphrey C. & D. Sneath (eds) 1996 Culture and environment in inner Asia: I Pastoral economy and the environment The White Horse Press, Cambridge. ISBN 1-874267-15-4
Humphrey C., & D. Sneath (eds) 1996 Culture and environment in inner Asia: II Economy and culture The White Horse Press, Cambridge. ISBN 1-874267-17-0
Kharin, Nikolia, Ryaturo Takahashi and Hissein Harahshesh, (1999) Degradation of the drylands of Central Asia. Japan, Center for Remote Sensing (CEReS), Chiba University.
Latham R. E. (translator) 1958, The Travels of Marco Polo, p67. Penguin, Harmondsworth
Mearns, R.1993 Pastoral Institutions, Land Tenure and Land Policy Reform in Post-Socialist Mongolia PALD Research report No 3. University of Sussex.
Mearns R. and J. Swift (1996) "Pasture and land management in the retreat from a centrally planned economy in Mongolia" pp 96-98 in N. West ed. Rangelands for a Sustainable Biosphere Society for Range Management, Denver CO. (Proceedings of 5th International Range Conference 1995)
Przhevalsky, N. M. (1883) The third expedition in Central Asia Sankt-Petersburg. Quoted by Kharin et al (1999) p. 56
Telenged B. 1996 Livestock Breeding in Mongolia pp 161 - 188
in Humphrey C., and D. Sneath (eds) 1996
Arrangements are being made for local revision and up-dating